A fundraising expert for the far-right BNP helped head a charity for Troubles’ victims that has raked in taxpayers’ cash
Fanatical anti-abortionist James Dowson was trustee of Solas NI — which has received more than £130,000 from Government and European Union peace grants. There is no suggestion that the money intended to help victims was misused.
Dowson confirmed his links to Solas NI after we started to investigate the secretive charity, which was set up to counsel those bereaved, maimed or traumatized by terrorist attacks. The support group has now mysteriously shut its Belfast headquarters amid revelations it has links to the far-right BNP.
Dowson was revealed in June as the man who runs the British National Party’s national call centre in Dundonald. The Dundonald BNP “bunker” is tucked away at Unit 5, Carrowreagh Business Centre.
Scottish businessman Dowson is a hardline anti-abortion campaigner who has a number of criminal convictions. He also featured in a flute band which produced tapes glorifying UFF killer Michael Stone’s infamous Milltown cemetery massacre in 1988. Dowson, 44, has a string of convictions including breach of the peace in 1986, weapon possession and breach of peace in 1991 and criminal damage in 1992.
When we first contacted him to ask about his links to Solas NI, he referred us to his solicitor. They released a statement to us through Dowson’s company Adlorries. In the statement, Dowson refers to Solas NI as ‘Solaris NI’. It said Dowson ceased to be a trustee of the group in February last year.
The statement added: “Jim Dowson is pleased to have been involved in a charity that set itself the agenda of making Northern Ireland safe for all by building bridges between persons of different faiths, different political persuasions and of different ethnic origins.”
Solas declares on its website that it embraces diversity and aims to ensure that victims of Troubles atrocities can turn to a “nonpolitical and non-sectarian organisation” for help. The group received £111,479 of European Union peace funding between 1998 and 2007. And from 2003-2007, Solas received £18,627 in Northern Ireland peace grants.
Dowson’s statement said that it was his “understanding” that Solas had been “dormant” since October last year. It added: “As far as Jim Dowson is aware, Solaris NI complied with all its legal, regulatory, funding and public disclosure obligations and requirements in full during the time he was a trustee and he has no reason to believe that this exemplary record was not continued by Solaris NI after he ceased to be a trustee.”
When we called at the Solas registered address in east Belfast last week, its doors were shuttered over and there was no sign. The deserted building on the Upper Newtownards Road is the same address which is still listed on the organisation’s website. A local businessman, who did not want to be named, said he had seen the BNP ‘truth truck’ – which is emblazoned with anti-abortion propaganda – regularly parked outside the Solas office.
Solas still has an operational website, but it is not clear if it is still accepting donations from the public. And when we rang the telephone number on its website, they refused to say if they had closed, how their cash was used or where they were now based.
Records show that Solas NI has the same address and telephone number as the Christian Youth Fellowship, set up by Jim Dowson. Online records show that the last registered chairman for Solas NI is Alex Thomas. Thomas’s wife, Marion, answered the phone when we rang the organisation using the number on its website. It has been claimed that Marion is in “overall charge” of directing calls to Dowson’s charity and business empire.
She refused to tell us where Solas was based when we asked about its closed headquarters. She also referred us to the same solicitor Dowson uses if we wanted further comment.
Unlike England and Wales, there is no charity register in Northern Ireland to give the public access to their details. It means there are no official documents we could view which show how Solas NI works.
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